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10/5/2011
05:05 PM
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Five Worst Practices In Database Encryption

Poor encryption deployments risk too much critical information within databases

Database encryption can add a valuable layer of security to critical data stores, but only if the encryption is done well. As the number of database encryption deployments increases, so, too, does the number of bad encryption deployments.

Following are the five most common encryption worst practices that security experts see organizations engage in today. To get the most out of their security dollars, enterprises would do well to avoid these pitfalls.

1. Storing Keys In The Wrong Place
According to some security experts, one of the worst sins of database encryption is to comingle your encryption keys with the data they're used to encrypt.

"If you’re encrypting sensitive data in your database, then one of the worst practices is to store either the key used to encrypt the data or the authentication credentials that are used to get that key in the same database as the encrypted data," says Luther Martin, chief security architect for Voltage Security. "Doing that gives you the illusion of security, but actually provides very little real security."

To really protect your data, keep the management of encryption keys separate from the database that stores the data encrypted with those keys.

2. Failing To Centralize Key Management
Many times keys end up in the wrong place -- and poorly secured, at that -- because the organization is simply too overwhelmed to keep track of them.

"One of the main issues is the sheer number of encryption keys and digital certificates in use within organizations," says Jeff Hudson, CEO of Venafi. "Research shows that it is not uncommon for an organization to be managing certificates and keys in the thousands, if not tens of thousands."

Many organizations are sold encryption, but not the means or knowledge to manage it, Hudson says.

"Encryption is only half the solution. IT departments must track where the keys are and monitor and manage who has access to them. Organizations need to quickly come to terms with how crucial encryption keys are to safeguarding the entire enterprise," he says. "This heightens the need for both a deepened understanding of encryption best practices, as well as automated key and certificate management with access controls, separation of duties, and improved polices."

Ideally, organizations should endeavor to centralize key management as much as possible in order to know what the organization has in its inventory, where keys are located, and how they're protected.

NEXT PAGE: Recipe for disaster.

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